As a starting hitter on Severna Park High's volleyball team last fall, Jen Conner helped the Falcons (19-0) capture the Class 4A state title.
When Conner enters her junior year in September, the 5-foot-9 16-year-old will be one of four returning starters from that squad. And if her summer league success on the Capital Volleyball Club's 16-and-under Blue team is any indication, county rivals may be in for a tougher time than they had last year.
In the recent Junior Olympic National Championships in Albuquerque, N.M., Conner and Severna Park teammate Julie Kasprzak, also entering her junior year, helped the Capital Club's 16 Blue team place 29th in a 64-team field.
"That's the highest any East Coast team has ever done," said Conner, a first-team All-County selection last fall. "We had some problems early in the tournament, but we adjusted and pulled through."
The finish by 16 Blue culminated a brilliant season.
The squad began its campaign in May by capturing the title in the 22-team Atlantic Rim Power League, composed of teams from New York to Washington. Also during May, 16 Blue won the East Coast National Qualifier.
It followed that feat by plowing through opponents for the East Coast Junior Championship Title at Penn State on Memorial Day Weekend, never losing a single game in that event.
"Our coach was always telling someone to take charge, and I tried to do that as much as I could," said Conner, whose mentor was High Point High head coach Shirley Diggs. "We had to adjust to different styles, like cross-court and line shots. Overall, I thought we did pretty good."
Before heading to the Junior Olympic Nationals, the 16 Blue team captured the Chesapeake Regional crown.
"I'd say that was as good a team as we've had come along in quite a few years," said Joe McClure, coordinator of the Capitol Volleyball Club's four teams. "That was certainly the most spectacular finish of any of our teams."
Capital's 18 Blue squad, coached by McClure and Chris Green, had hoped to do better than its finish near the bottom of the 64-team field. But the squad entered the tournament without four of its six starters due to injury, including Severna Park graduate April Kaiser (shoulder) and Northern High graduate Kristin Kruse.
Kaiser, chosen Player of the Year by the Anne Arundel County Sun and The Baltimore Sun, is headed for Kent State University on a full scholarship. Kruse (University of North Carolina), The Washington Post's Player of the Year, led Northern to three Class 3A state titles before it finished as runner-up to Severna Park.
Without its stars, not even the presence of first-team All-County players Collette Marquis (South River), who is headed for Marshall (W.Va.) University, or senior Catherine Kirk (Severna Park) were enough to keep 18 Blue afloat.
"At full force, 18 Blue took third in the Atlantic Rim Power League," said McClure. "Instead, we finished poorly. It was an unfortunate thing to have happened."
South River junior Pam Patterson was the only countian on the Capital Club's 16 Red team, which competed in the June 19-22 Amateur Athletic Union Championships at Benedictine College in Lisle, Ill.
The Red team, coached by Arnold resident Maureen Carter, finished 35th out of 112 teams.
"We were surprised at how well we did, because we were just going there to gain experience," said Patterson, 15, who at 5-11 started as a middle and outside hitter.
"There were some pretty competitive teams in the semifinals, but I thought we played really well as a team. I've really come a long way in this league. I've improved a lot, and I'm glad I joined it."
Last week, Capital's 18 Red team was competing in the Nike Volleyball Festival in Davis, Calif., a 500-team affair billed as the world's largest single-sport event.
The Red team, which should return today, is coached by Severna Park's Tim Dunbar, Coach of the Year by the Anne Arundel County Sun and The Baltimore Sun, and features Severna Park seniors Kate Marks and Jaime Pirotte.